Posts tagged ‘fairy tale’

April 28, 2011

On the darkest side of beautiful

Fairy tales were never meant to be pretty.  The original stories are a lot less about princesses in pink dresses than about evil mothers and vengeful fairies.  Briar Rose, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, would make the authors of those original dark stories proud.  It is a story about an average American family, an average girl, and the darkest part of the human heart.

Title: Briar Rose
Author: Jane Yolen
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Fairy Tale
Age: Older, mature Middle School students and High Schoolers

Summary and Review:

Rebecca is a young reporter who has always been very close to the red-headed grandmother she resembles.  Ever since she was a little girl, she has loved listening to the story her grandmother tells again and again–the story of Briar Rose, or Sleeping Beauty.  Rebecca can recite her grandmother’s version by heart, but loves to hear it again and again anyway.  But the story is full of mysteries, and the most important one guides this book: why does Rebecca’s grandmother insist that she is Briar Rose?  That she is a princess from another land, that she is Sleeping Beauty?

Rebecca makes a promise to her grandmother as she is dying that she will discover the truth, that she will learn what her grandma means when she claims to be Sleeping Beauty.  And while her older sisters mock her, Rebecca sets off on a life-changing journey and learns the remarkable story in her family’s past.

The idea that drives this book and the history behind it is brilliant.  It’s an incredible reinterpretation of the story of Sleeping Beauty, and this comes beautifully to light in the first half of the book.  If I can quibble with the book (and I guess I can…), I would say that I was a little disappointed with the second half.  It seemed very disjointed from the first half–I would have loved if the two stories were more interwoven.  However, that being said, this is a beautifully conceived story.  (More info about the plot below the spoiler line.)

I also felt that the “mystery” she is trying to solve—that is, how exactly her grandmother could have been Sleeping Beauty—is fairly obvious from very early on in the book.  (And I NEVER solve anything in a book until the end—I am a VERY clueless reader!)  So I found it distressing that I predicted most of the events way ahead of the main character, who in comparison seemed completely clueless and out of it.  I guess I would have preferred if it was just presented less as a mystery, but that’s just my take.  However, just in case there are those out there that like to hang on to the mystery, I have left the rest of my review below a spoiler line, although I will by no means give everything away!

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Rebecca’s journey takes her to Poland, where she finds the proof that her grandmother came to America near the end of World War II, not before the war as her family had been led to believe.  What happened to her grandmother during the war and the people she met along the way pose the setting and the characters for a dark and violent Sleeping Beauty story.

Parents might want to know that despite the happy and very G-rated first half of the book, the story definitely takes a turn that will require a more mature reader for the end.  The violence of the concentration camps and death camps is described in a lot of detail, including descriptions of inmates being forced to do things like roll in the cold snow, mentions of the gay inmates being asked to “try” themselves in brothels and be castrated if they “fail”, talk about babies being killed and people being stuffed into trucks with their children and gassed to death, among other descriptions of the horror that was the Holocaust.  There is also some mention of having sex (although no description of this).  Nothing is gratuitous and it’s all within the range of acceptable for a young adult reader, but parents and teachers might want to read the book along with their children to provide support.

February 15, 2011

Would you want a gift from a fairy? Maybe not.

C.S. Lewis once said “Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”  I don’t know this because I am intellectual enough to remember profound quotes by famous people, but rather because it was written on the wall of the coffee shop where I hung out earlier today.  It struck my fancy immediately, and I’m happy that it fits into today’s blog post.  Because fairy tales are not only for the young.  Fairy tales are for all of us and they give us a sense of truth about the world that we can’t always find anywhere else.

This book, a Newbery Honor book, was one of my favorites that I’ve read in awhile.  I absolutely loved it and it was a true page-turner for me.  And because I had read NONE of the hype about the book, or any reviews, I was dumbfounded with shock and excitement on about page 180 at what I had missed.  Because of that, I’ve decided to hide some of my reviews below a “SPOILER” line at the end of this post.  This might be ridiculous because nothing I’m about to say is not already in reviews everywhere, or even basic descriptions of the book.  But if you haven’t followed that, you might enjoy the book even more as you follow the beautiful story of Ella all on your own.

Title: Ella Enchanted
Author: Gail Carson Levine
Genre: Fantasy
Age: Middle Grade

Summary and Review:

Ella has always lived with a curse, set upon her at birth by a foolish fairy: the curse of obedience.  If you think it doesn’t sound so bad to be obedient (or have your child be!) imagine always HAVING to be obedient.  Anything that anyone says, Ella has to do.  She can try to refrain, but it causes her pain and she eventually has to cave.  So if someone orders her to cut off her head, she’d have to do it.  As a result, Ella dances a dangerous dance in life and lives differently than anyone else.  Only her mother and godmother know the curse but it affects every second, every decision of her life.  After her mother dies, Ella is sent to finishing school by her absent and self-absorbed father.  She runs away on a quest to find fairy who cursed her and search for a cure.

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Stuff to do with the kids:

Okay, so here’s the deal.  You might have figured it out just from the title–it’s pretty obvious.  After all, her name is Ella.  Her mother dies.  She has a fairy godmother.  She’s in love with a guy named “Prince Char”.  Sound familiar? Because that part all comes in the early part of the book.  And then, for those of us who are a little slow on the uptake, there are more clues later: her father marries an evil woman (who becomes her evil stepmother) who has two evil daughters (who become her evil stepsisters), and by then even I’m starting to figure it out.  It’s another Cinderella story!  But much more than that because the actual story of Cinderella doesn’t start until more than halfway through the book, and this is not a character we’ve seen before. Ella is not a weak-willed girl who follows orders and becomes a princess, rescued by the prince.

No, Ella is a strong, naturally rebellious girl who is fighting all her life against a horrible curse.  And the fight is a wonderful adventure, a great read, and a beautiful reintroduction to a favorite character.  Talking with your kids about her character and how different it is from your daughter’s original idea of Cinderella.

Teachers might like to ask their students to write their own versions of a fairy tale, taking this book as a wonderful example of how to do so.